A lawyer working for dissident Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) claims Russian police forcibly removed him from the country, binding him with handcuffs and tossing a sack over his head before driving him across the border and handing him over to Belarusian authorities, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL) reported Tuesday.
In a YouTube video, posted Monday, Uladzlen Los described the incident in detail, stating Russian police had barred him from entering Russia for five years and that Belarusian authorities declined to arrest him upon his repatriation. Los is a citizen of Belarus.
The video is age-restricted and only available on YouTube, ostensibly to comply with the website’s “community guidelines.”
It is a crime in Russia to incite minors to “illegal” political activity and the state’s censor, Roskomnadzor, has intensified its efforts to censor such content online, demanding on January 22 that TikTok drop videos encouraging protests for Navalny’s release.
Uladzlen stated that police previously ordered him to leave the country by January 25. In the interim, the Belarusian lawyer received a three-day jail sentence for allegedly disobeying a police order. He, along with several other Navalny associates, entered police custody on various charges amid the large scale protests demanding Navalny’s release.
Russian authorities arrested Navalny upon his arrival in the country after recuperating in Germany from an alleged assassination attempt involving the nerve agent Novichok, nearly synonymous with political assassinations, most notably the botched Kremlin hit on former intelligence operative Sergei Skripal.
Navalny accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the assassination attempt. Putin has adamantly denied any involvement. In December, Putin stated that, had he ordered his agents to kill Navalny, “they would have finished it.”
While in custody, Navalny filmed a video urging his supporters to take the streets. Thousands responded to his call this weekend in several large Russian cities, including Moscow. The police crackdown escalated in response; authorities documented over 3,700 arrests at the protests, many of them over alleged violations of Russia’s anti-coronavirus social distancing measures.
In a Tuesday press conference, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov discussed the protests and the unusually high number of arrests, blaming the developments on the protesters’ actions.
“The level of violence among the participants of these actions was rather unprecedented. They behaved extremely aggressively,” Peskov said, according to state media outlet Tass.
He then emphasized that the alleged protester violence “once again proves that the warnings regarding the danger of taking part in unsanctioned rallies are justified, as these aggressive so-called peaceful protesters are the ones provoking this violence, no one else.”